China's rare earth policy backs Apple into a corner
Report says fondleslabs factories are located near source
Apple’s shiny fondleslabs are made in China not only because of the low cost of labour in the People’s Republic but also due to the surging prices and tightening export restrictions on rare earth minerals which the nation has a near monopoly on, according to a report.
Although Apple has been notoriously secretive about the materials it uses to produce the iconic tablet, tech repair site ifixit.org spoke to Cambridge professor Tim Coombs who reckons the fondleslab could be packed with the rare minerals.
First up there could be lanthanum in the device’s lithium-ion polymer battery, while the magnets along the side and in the cover were pegged as containing neodymium alloy, followed by a selection of rare earths to produce the different colours in the display, he said.
Apple didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment from The Reg but considering the near-ubiquity of rare earth minerals in modern tech kit and the famously huge margins Cupertino manages to make on its shiny toys, the story does make sense.
As the report suggests, manufacturing the device at or closer to the source of these rare minerals would circumvent China’s increasingly tight export quotas and cut costs pretty significantly.
The problem of supply and demand with these seemingly vital components is only going to get worse, with China – which has a global market share of around 97 per cent – cutting back on the mining of rare minerals apparently due to environmental reasons.
The EU, Japan and US have all lodged complaints with the World Trade Organisation, but as we’ve said before, there is little the body can do legally to compel China to change its mind.
In the meantime, as the economics become even more pressing and supply lines are tightened, more technology manufacturing plants could relocate to the People’s Republic.
Japanese firm Hitachi recently unveiled what it claimed to be a rare mineral-free electric motor.
However, little progress has been made elsewhere in either finding alternative ways to produce tech kit without the precious minerals or finding alternative deposits of minerals outside the People’s Republic. ®
It's not getting worse. Molycorp and Lynas are both expected to bring large amounts of REO into production within the year, and the price of a basket of rare earth oxide prices (for use outside china) published by Lynas has fallen 75% from its August 2011 peak.
Whilst it is still double the intra-china price, added supply from the many projects due to come on line over the next 3 years should sort that out.
"- cutting back on the mining of rare minerals apparently due to environmental reasons."
My bollocks - since when has China considered the environment in any of it's industrial and/or idealogical endeavors? If the figure of 97% is accurate, then it's simply about control - in the global market, the tech world and international politicking.
Plenty of REE's
There's loads of known and exploitable REE deposits elsewhere. They were the main source prior to the 1980's/909's when China brought theirs onto the open market at a fraction of the market price. Everyone else put their mines on hold, and used the China supply instead. This China lockdown has been on the cards for a while, and as such companies have been spinning up their old mines in preparation. The Chinese deposits are certainly large and rich, but they are by no means the only ones.